Sustainability – Three Golf Facilities Changing A Catchphrase Into Reality

By Larry Gilhuly, Northwest Region
August 20, 2013

Kings Links by the Sea near Vancouver, B.C., may be a little brown, but it is very playable, fun and sustainable.

As the summer moves along, recent visits to golf facilities have ranged from those with lower budgets to those with much, much higher budgets. At some facilities, players demand the color green while at other facilities there is much less turf of this color and players simply want a golf course with quality playing conditions. For those interested in becoming more “green” by not having as much of this color on the golf course, this article is for you because several golf courses visited recently that have taken the word “sustainability” and changed it from a catchphrase into reality. Let’s take a quick look at the following golf facilities: 

  • Kings Links by the Sea. This true links golf course, located on the shores of Boundary Bay just south of Vancouver, B.C., has everything one would want from a links-style course. Hard winds, very few trees, it is walkable and requires shots much lower in trajectory than is typical for a Pacific Northwest venue. However, what sets this public course apart is the willingness of the owners (Brad and Maria Newell) to allow their superintendent (Mike Kiener) to truly set the golf course up in a “fast and firm” condition. Rather than maintaining the fairways in a green manner with a little bit of brown, the exact opposite is found at Kings Links. The result is fairway mowing once weekly with the focus of the small staff on the greens and surrounds. Firm greens and approaches along with low-mowed and expanded chipping areas makes this course sustainable from both an economic and environmental standpoint. Water use is very minimal. While salt intrusion is an issue the combination of fine fescues and bentgrasses have slowly taken over the site with a little alkaligrass thrown in for some low areas. While the course greens up in the spring and when fall rains arrive, the only way this course sustains itself is through a minimal input approach.
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  • Trysting Tree Golf Club. This golf course is found in the center of the grass seed capital of the world in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Again, to sustain itself economically while always being aware of inputs like water and fertilizer, Pat Doran, CGCS, does a masterful job of creating “firm and fast” conditions on the fairways. With a staff of usually seven or less, Mr. Doran has also focused most of the maintenance effort on the greens and surrounds with little or no rough irrigation. Beginning in the summer, the fescue/ryegrass roughs are not mowed or irrigated. The result is rough that is relatively thin, but with ample seedheads to create a distinct color difference. The beauty of this approach is acres of “turf” in the roughs that requires no maintenance, yet players that have shots venture into these areas can find their balls easily without slowing pace of play. As with Kings Links, sustainability is a reality at Trysting Tree on several levels.
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  • Tokatee Golf Club. The sister course to Trysting Tree is Tokatee Golf Club. Located approximately 40 miles from Eugene up the spectacular McKenzie River in the center of the Cascade Mountain range, Tokatee is a gem that follows the same principles as Trysting Tree. While far more trees are found at this site, the native roughs have the same characteristic of no water, no fertilizer and no wasted labor hours. Owner Larry Giustina has followed the same principles as his father, Nat, for this very isolated site: Keep costs down, provide good playing surfaces and the course will continue forward. He encourages Superintendent Akoni Ganir and his very small staff to focus on the main playing areas with “firm and fast” as a goal when weather allows. Mr. Ganir and his staff have responded with superb playing conditions “down-the-middle” while not wasting labor or maintenance on high-acreage perimeters.

All three of these golf facilities and their superintendents are making the word sustainable a reality by backing off the very components that make a golf course green in color, expensive to maintain and in the crosshairs of environmental conversations. As former USGA Green Section national director Al Radko so eloquently stated in his 1977 Golf Journal article “Green Is Not Great: Golf is Played on Grass, Not on Color,” these three examples show that golf can be sustainable, fun and very playable with less water and fewer inputs. The game of golf would benefit if more of us in it – turf managers, owners, course officials and golfers included – come to understand this simple concept. 

Source: Larry Gilhuly (lgilhuly@usga.org

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service  

Contact the Green Section Staff

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